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Senate confirms Gonzales for attorney general

Sworn in Thursday in White House ceremony

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WASHINGTON (CNN -- The Senate confirmed White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales as attorney general on a 60-36 vote Thursday, with many Democrats objecting to his role in crafting Bush administration policies on the treatment of prisoners.

Gonzales replaces Attorney General John Ashcroft, who announced his resignation after President Bush's re-election in November.

He took his oath of office from Vice President Dick Cheney in a brief ceremony in the White House.

The Senate Judiciary Committee split along partisan lines to recommend Gonzales' confirmation last month, with Democrats arguing that Gonzales failed to explain fully his role in the creation of rules critics say led to the torture of prisoners in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Sen. Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Thursday that Gonzales played a "central role" in establishing policy "that set the stage for the torture and mistreatment of persons in United States custody."

"This legal framework endangered American troops by making them more vulnerable to like treatment," said Levin, of Michigan. "Prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere has deepened the anger and resentment that some feel toward our country, and have given a propaganda club to our enemies."

But Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said attempts to link Gonzales to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal were "absolutely despicable."

"Judge Gonzales doesn't owe anybody an apology for his record," McConnell said. "But some owe him an apology for rimracking him with phony allegations instead of honoring his willingness to serve his country."

Gonzales, 49, was legal adviser to Bush when Bush was governor of Texas in the 1990s and served on that state's supreme court.

Bush tapped him to serve as White House counsel in his first term, then nominated him to replace Ashcroft as head of the Justice Department last year.

With Thursday's vote, he becomes the country's first Hispanic attorney general.

Gonzales has been criticized for a memo he sent to President Bush in January 2002 that asserted that terrorists captured overseas should not be covered by the Geneva Conventions.

During a confirmation hearing earlier this month, Gonzales denied that his advice led to abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody and tried to assure senators that "torture and abuse will not be tolerated by this administration."

In addition, he has faced criticism for a Justice Department memo on prisoners in Afghanistan that defined torture only as "extreme acts" that inflicted pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death."

The August 2002 memo, addressed to Gonzales from then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, has since been reversed. But critics charged its narrow definition of torture opened the door to behavior that should have been prohibited, such as the abuse of inmates at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

Gonzales' defenders point to an August 2004 report on the Abu Ghraib scandal by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, who found there was no "policy of abuse" that led to the mistreatment of Iraqis by U.S. troops at that notorious facility. The Schlesinger report blamed inadequate supervision by U.S. commanders for the abuse.

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